« AnteriorContinuar »
“ D IN, Jimsie, rin, and ca' for Angell Jenn,"
N shouted the cheery Miller ; “tell her it's just Drucken Wull ower again.”
From out the crowd of boys and girls, playing at tig on the Village Green, a laddie of ten years or so, with curly hair like a water-dog's showering round a cherub face, flew barefoot and swift as a deer up the Village Gate and into The Cottage.
“Come quck! come quck! Drucken Wull's stacherin' ower the Miller's Brig. He's roarin' fou, and fechtin' wi' the win!”
Waiting for no answer, Jimsie was down the Close again in a jiffy, and back into the midst of the crowd of men, women, and children,-his eager face gaping and glowering like the lave.
He heard not the gentle murmur of Angell Jenn's voice, as she whipped a fine new scone under her apron, wiped the flour off her hands, and, swinging the girdle aside from the fire, stopped her family baking and stepped softly away on her errand of pity :
"Puir Wull, brocht up like the nowte i' the fields, and nae yin tae care for him! Nae Mither's kiss on his broo, nae Mither's prayer in his ear, nae dream o' God in his heid, nae vision o' better things in his ee. Naething but the animal has ever yet been waukened in the puir craytur. Gif the Great Teacher wad but strike a Wall-Ee deep into his soul, the fountain wad burst up an' bubble ower; an' Wull, puir fallow, wad be a credit tae us a' yet, an' no a disgrace tae the verra Makker Himsel'."
Meanwhile, Drucken Wull, singing, swearing, bellowing, had staggered through the midst of the Villagers,-leering at one, striking at another, trying to embrace a third,-daft with drink, and needing only very small provocation to become stark mad and murderous. At first, the Youngkers were disposed to make fun with him, as hundreds of times they had done before, -setting him to sing and dance, and seeing him scatter all his remaining bawbees in handfuls about their feet, which they, however, would faithfully gather together again, and restore to his capacious pockets, or to Bett his wife. But, this night, things had gone too far for a prank. Wull's eyes were bloodshot, and his temper stormy. His red beard and matted hair were dirtily bespattered. His clothes hung round his person, indecently unloosed. The Youngkers hushed their laughter; and a something came into the eyes of others, as the kindly Miller, usually the cheeriest of them all, muttered
“A sair sicht! a sair sicht! God pity puir Betty this nicht!”
And Betty was to be pitied, indeed,—Dirty Bett, as we somewhat coarsely called her. Pitied, not so much for her lot as a Drunkard's Wife—though that was bad enough-as rather for her utter, absolute, and hopeless incapacity of understanding, or even trying to understand, how to deal with such a case. She had two, and only two, weapons. The one was her tongue-lancing, lashing, tearing at every stroke ; cutting deep, maddening, and rousing the very Devil in the drunken man. The other was besomshank, or oaken staff, or poker, or whatever rough tool came to hand, when her biting words had driven Wull to blows, and she hesitated not to defend herself savagely, or even to turn the enemy's flank and become fierce assailant. Animal was pitted against Animal, and Might was the only Right.
On this occasion wild words swiftly did their worst, in a few poisoned shafts, shot and swiftly re-shot from tongue to tongue. The Villagers were expecting, every instant, the sounds and yells of more deadly assault, instinctively drawing nearer the Clay Biggin', but all fearing to enter,—when, without a word spoken, the crowd fell in two, and, through the lane, Jenn of The Cottage passed to the door ;—with a look on her face like that of an Angel sent down to war with Demons in Hell, and to bring back to the Christ some souls which He claimed, and which had somehow missed their destination.
As her step touched the thresh-hold, an arm stretched out of the crowd, a hand was laid lovingly on her shoulder, and a very tender voice whispered : “The Lord be thy Licht! May the Faither o’us a' bring Saving Health this day to puir Wull!”
The speaker was her own husband, Angell James. An ineffable look passed between them, as of two Souls that had often met together in the Holy of Holies. She passed in, and gently pushed to the door behind her. The scene to be enacted there was too sacred for a gaping crowd.
A plain and homely Peasant Body, sonsy in her middle years, kindly and couthie - like, was this Messenger of Pity,—to whom every soul in all that Village seemed prepared, at the slightest sign, to uncover, and to bow with reverence that became a Queen. And yet, a stranger like myself was sorely puzzled to account for it all. She was clearly but one of themselves, and they spake of her, in rustic affability, not even as “Mistress," but simply as Angell Jenn. Her Cottage was as poor a Home as theirs ; though the thatch on the roof did look notably neat, and the climbing roses and the blossoming honeysuckle on the walls notably sweet, and every inch of space within and every bit of furniture notably clean. Her dress was of the humblest; her hair was auburn, turning to gray; her hands were stiff with life - long toils ; her face was beautiful with motherliness, but had no other special beauty that I could see; though I noted, even in that first brief encounter, that she walked like one whose heart was singing, or as if she herself were always listening to an unseen Choir. There was that something about her, that filled you with after-dreams, in which her presence, unbidden, thronged the brain.
"Quate, man Wullie, quate! You and me 'll hae a bit crack, a' tae oorsels; and na let thae glaikit monkeys on the Green hear a', and lauch' at us, the silly sclypes. Come awa ower tae your ain chair i’ the Ingle Neuk; and I'll 1 licht your pipe, Wullie, and ye'll hae a lunt or twa, while Betty sets the tea, and butters this braw new scone o' my ain bakin', that I've slippit ower tae ye under my apron.”
All this time Angell Jenn was herself carrying out everything that she seemed to be only suggesting, amid the apparently unresisting acquiescence of all concerned. Her arm cleekit into Wull's, as she entered ; and he at once relaxed the bed-post, around which he had been clinging, and balancing himself, to receive or to deliver an assault. He was now allowing the Little Woman to guide him to the Ingle Neuk, and to plant him in the armchair,—all the while her soft voice purring soothingly to him about “this sair faucht wi' that muckle Deevil o' Drink,”—or “thae ill-set wratches at The Toun that poisoned a decent fallow wi' their dirty stuff,”—or “hoo nice it was to be at Hame, at his ain Fireside, wi' his ain Betty to coddle and care for him, and bring him to himsel' again!”
This last stroke was, however, lost on Wull, whose passion, the moment he reached a seat, was dulling down into a sottish sleep; but it hit the heart of Bett, for whom it was in fact intended. When Angell Jenn entered the Clay Biggin', its Mistress was storming, at the further side of the earthen floor, against Wull swinging at the bedpost, with the face of a fiend, and with a poker
1 The pronoun, 1, always in Lowland Scotch to be pronounced Aw.